Posted by: jockmackenzie | May 24, 2010

Middle School² – Defined

Eastview Middle School.

In 1982, I moved from Westpark Junior High (having spent 9 wonderful years) to Eastview. From 1982 to 1986, I taught at Eastview Junior High. I returned in 2003 to Eastview Middle School where I spent my last three years before officially retiring.

I ended my last entry (Middle School¹ – Defined) with this statement about my idea of using CEED as a mnemonic to remember the National Middle School’s four essential attributes of a middle school:

But the terms, mnemonic or not, may be easily forgotten unless there is a picture,a challenge, an anecdote, or a reason to remember that these four attributes are critical. And so . . .

Soooooooooo, here are my hooks to remember that a middle school has to be (and I’ll switch the order to fit my mnemonic):

Challenging: This is one of the easiest attributes to remember. There is nothing I have encountered in 61 years that is more challenging than an early adolescent. When friends or acquaintances learned that I taught at a middle school, the invariable response was, “Oh, wow! Good for you. I could never teach that age group!” And having taught my entire career in the same town, I have had numerous former students, now adults, come up to me and say, “I’m sorry. I’m not the kind of person I acted like when you taught me.”

But “Challenging” as NMSA defines it is not about how “challenging” it is to get through to students between 10 and 14 years of age. The challenging part is how to channel the energy of this challenging group to meet the challenge of learning. Initially, for me, it was a challenge merely to “manage” a classroom of Grade Eights let alone actually teach them anything – or create an atmosphere in which they could teach themselves and one another.

For now, I’ll end by reiterating – The “Challenging” attribute is easy to remember. The hard part is providing interesting and exciting challenges to the students as you deal with all of the challenges early adolescents bring to the table.

Empowering. A key difference I see between myself in my junior high days and my later middle school teaching is the shift in emphasis from transmitting knowledge to more of an enabling. Maybe it’s a switch from lecture to conjecture, from impart to play the part.

As a parent, I spent my early years preparing my two wonderful children to be ready for the time when I wasn’t there. I don’t think I had the same concept in mind for the students I taught. It was not foremost in my mind that I should be preparing them for the time they “moved away from home.” But empowering is that skill.

Throughout my life, I have heard the phrase “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” But I am not sure I truly put enough credence in the inevitability of those words. I continued to teach what I was told to teach; I blindly followed the Program of Studies for language arts. I think teachers need to blend the requirements their superiors provide with the necessities of the world around us. We need to help our students find the powers that will help them in the world outside school.

A story: I stopped at a gas station and bought a newspaper, a pop, and a bag of chips. A student I recognized from my middle school was at the cash register. He took a calculator and added the costs of the three items. His total came to just under ten dollars. I knew that each of the three items cost less than two dollars. At most (3 x 2 = 6), my bill should have been five dollars and something. But the student boldly and confidently asked for nine dollars and something. The power was in the calculator. How could a calculator be wrong?

To be continued.


  1. Your reflections on what we did in our clasrooms is absolutely true. We were often preoccupied with something else before we got around to setting students up for future success inlife.
    Meeting former students and talking about their experience is extremely enlightening. I’m sure you could write a book on these encounters.

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